Grow greens for fresh produce in the wintertime

Published 8:05 am Monday, October 30, 2023

By Eddie Smith
MSU Extension Service

I love cool-season gardening. It’s a fantastic way to keep enjoying fresh and healthy produce even as the temperatures begin to drop, and days get shorter.

The cooler months are perfect for growing several crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, kale, lettuce and spinach.

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I think lettuce is one of the easiest crops to grow in the fall, winter and spring. It only takes about 20 to 60 days to grow many varieties of lettuce, and they can tolerate frost and light freezing temperatures.

Growing lettuce in raised beds or containers is easier than growing it in-ground, which is more traditional. In containers, there is less weed competition and it is easier to harvest.

If you are looking for colorful lettuce to grow, Cherokee lettuce is a great selection. It has thick, medium-sized, reddish-maroon leaves. And unlike many lettuce varieties, it can tolerate warmer temperatures and not develop a bitter taste.

Ideal cos romaine lettuce is another great lettuce to grow. This selection is heat tolerant like Cherokee lettuce, but it also can tolerate frost and light freezing temperatures. Its green, upright foliage makes it a great choice for small gardens or raised beds. Its growth habit makes it a great choice for growing hydroponically.

Mustard and collard greens are two other classic cool-season vegetables for our fall gardens.  Both leafy greens also grow well in raised beds and containers where they are more manageable and require less work.

It is surprising how many plants perform well in a small, raised bed or container. This allows you to enjoy fresh greens even if you only have a small patio, balcony, or sunny kitchen window.

If you like spicy greens, Red Giant mustard greens are for you. The flavor of the big mature leaves is similar to horseradish, while younger leaves usually have a milder flavor.

Red Giant is a colorful, purple-tinted mustard plant with large leaves and a bright green stem. Its purple color intensifies in cool temperatures. This plant matures in 35 to 40 days.

While mustard greens are good, I prefer collard greens for their sweeter flavor.

If you are interested in growing your own, try Top Chop, an excellent collard green with large, wide, smooth leaves. It is known for being very cold hardy. This collard plant usually takes about 74 days to mature. You can grow Top Chop in the fall, winter, and spring.

I’ve just named a few varieties, and there are many other great cool-season vegetables you can grow. Check your local nurseries and garden centers to see what is available in your area.